One of the central features of being human is our ability to develop and maintain beliefs. We each hold ideas about what is true and what is not, what is fair, just, or moral, even what is real. These beliefs are connected as networks in our own minds, and are also connected to the beliefs of other people in our social networks. Past theories have approached individual and social belief networks separately, but Professor Mirta Galesic, External Professor Henrik Olsson, and new Program Postdoctoral Fellow Jonas Dalege, hope to develop a unifying theoretical framework that integrates the two approaches.
Dalege, who holds a PhD in psychology as well as a BSc and MSc from the University of Amsterdam, studies the nature of human attitudes. He has developed a network theory of individual attitudes, describing the complex interactions between elements like feelings, beliefs, and behaviors.
“A central postulate of my network theory of attitudes is that the connections between different attitude elements increase when one thinks about and pays attention to an attitude object,” says Dalege. If, for example, you don’t care much about politics, positive feelings about a political candidate are unlikely to translate into volunteering for their campaign. In contrast, when politics are very important to you, feeling strongly about a political candidate is much more likely to motivate you to volunteer for their campaign. The more time you spend thinking about the candidate, the more interconnected your beliefs, feelings, and behaviors regarding that candidate become. “Because of this, your overall attitude becomes more stable and extreme,” he says.
At SFI, Dalege, Galesic, and Olsson hope an integrated network perspective can help shed more light on why people hold tight to some beliefs while others are more easily changed.